The Church Plant at Philippi
Text: Philippians 1:1-2
This morning I would like to introduce this letter to you. For many it has been entitled the Epistle of Joy. Joy is mentioned at least 16 times, Christ 50 times, and it’s easy to see the connection – true joy is found in Christ. Now our world knows little of true joy – most people are always hungering after something else. Their lives may have moments of happiness. But happiness and joy are not the same.
Happiness – comes from hap, which has the idea of things that just happen i.e. by chance. And so happiness is delight based upon a present happening. So it may happen or may not happen, it’s not something we can guarantee.
Joy – is completely unrelated to circumstances. It is a deep-seeded delight that is present regardless of what is going on. It is therefore something we draw from the Lord, and thus it can be our permanent possession. Rejoice = 74 x NT. Joy = 59 x NT. It is part of the Christian experience.
A good argument could be made that Paul’s affection for the Philippians exceeded any other church that he planted or wrote to. It was special to him, no doubt in part because of the fiery trials he experienced as the church was founded.
And he is writing to them mainly because of their sorrow over him, because of his imprisonment. But he writes to say HE rejoices, so they should as well.
I. THE SERVANTS TO THE CHURCH
1. The Person Paul
Converted on the road to Damascus. An apostle of Christ. The most fervent servant of Christ the world has ever known. Writer of 13-14 of the NT letters. A model for every believer. And if you want a short autobiography of his life you need look no further than Phil 3:4-8.
2. The Person Timothy
Paul’s son in the faith, introduced in Acts 16 when Paul visited Derbe and Lystra. He became a companion and a son, and was the one Paul handed the burden of ministry to before he died. Shortly after this letter Paul would write two personal letters to Timothy. We get a biography of him here in 2:19-21. Timothy had a heart like Paul, genuinely concerned since he had accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey when the Philippian church was founded. So the life of Timothy is summed up in the fact that Paul claimed he was the only one with a heart for them like he had.
While Paul mentions Timothy as with him, Timothy has nothing to do with the content of this letter. Paul writes hereafter in the first person singular. But Paul mentions Timothy for a number of reasons:
a) because the Philippians knew him from the beginning of the work and so Paul is letting them know he is with him,
b) because Paul was sending Timothy to them, he includes Timothy to show that he’s not just sending him as a messenger boy, but that Paul esteemed Timothy highly to include him in the greeting,
c) because it’s probable that Timothy was the amanuensis by which the letter is being written (Rom 16:22; 1 Cor 16:21; Col 4:18; Gal 6:11; 2 Thes 3:17).
3. Their Position in Christ
“bond servants of Jesus Christ” (Jm 1:1; 2 Pet 1:1; Jude v1). doulos = ownership, allegiance, subjection, etc. Willing service. It’s not forced labour. It’s service of bondage to the individual out of affection: Ex 21:5. Such slaves would get their ear pierced as a sign that they were willing slaves for life to their master. And so Paul and Timothy served as slaves out of love. “of Jesus Christ” – always serving Christ, not the church leaders, or of the government, but Christ. Speaks of his bonds: 7, 13, 14, 16, but he wasn’t a slave to Rome, but to Christ. And this is critical. People will always disappoint you. And I want us all to know that our service is for Christ. Don’t do anything for the sake of people without having the primary view that it’s for Christ.
Sometimes people get all upset because men don’t recognize their labours, and they get so discouraged they decide to stop labouring in the Lord’s work, but such people have lost sight that our labour is to the Lord only.
II. THE SAINTS AT THE CHURCH
1. Who are the Saints?
To some people a saint is one who is dead and has been recognized and canonized, but this is plainly unbiblical. It is a name for all Christians (Acts 9:13; 32). And you’re either a saint or you’re not, and if you can’t claim to be a saint then you’re not going to Heaven. Separated, unique, different, set apart, holy – even the Corinthians were called saints. So how did the Philippians become saints or holy ones? It is by our union with Christ, ‘in Christ Jesus’. We are different from the rest of the world, those who have been placed into Christ. Muslims can’t say they’re ‘in Mohammed’, Buddhists don’t speak of being ‘in Buddha’. We have the life of Christ, buried in his death and risen in life with Him in His resurrection.
2. Where are the Saints? – “at Philippi”
For a long time it had been a commercial centre because of the gold and silver mines there, but the city had been built by Philip II of Macedon around 358 BC because of its strategic location. Basically, if you wanted to pass between Europe and Asia near the coast without crossing mountains, you had to pass through Philippi. It was also a Roman colony, which was the height of dignity. They were part of the Roman settlement to keep the peace of the Roman Empire. They would do this by sending scores of veteran Roman soldiers and their families to settle in the area to begin to exert influence upon the city.
And to be a Roman colony was favourable;
i) the people enjoyed the freedom to self-govern,
ii) the people were free from taxation,
iii) the people had the rights of Roman citizens.
But that’s not why it is well known. One thing has immortalized Philippi and prevented it from being an ancient city that’s no longer mentioned, and it’s what you hold in your hand – the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in that place.
III. THE STORY OF THE CHURCH
Acts 16:1-3, Troas was the last point of land before the sea, and God made it known that he wanted the message of Christ to go to Europe. Troas/Alexandria a free Greek city until Augustus had made it a Roman colony. And so seeing the vision, they go v11.
1. The Conversion of a Worshiping Woman – v13-15
Paul’s manner was to go to the synagogue to preach on the Sabbath day, but there was no synagogue in Philippi. You needed ten Jewish men for a synagogue but there wasn’t that in Philippi. But it had become a custom after the captivity, that just like the record of Ps 137, the Jews would go to a riverside to weep because they were not in Jerusalem, and there wasn’t even a synagogue for them to worship. Lydia, a Jewish woman, the first European convert and the start of the church in Philippi.
2. The Conversion of a Wicked Woman – v16-18
Probably the next Sabbath day as they went to pray by the river. And this demon possessed woman follows them. What she said was true, but that’s when Satan is most dangerous, when he’s telling the truth. That’s when false teachers are most dangerous. When we know they’re lying there’s no danger, but when they’re telling the truth it lures people into their trap. But Paul casts the demon out and this maddens her masters.
v19-24 – They take Paul and Silas (not Luke and Timothy). Note the pride they had in being Romans, and they use that as a cloak argument to suggest they didn’t want any of their Roman customs threatened, but money was their motivation.
They had just been beaten with specialized whips which tore the flesh from their body. Their back was a pulp, their could have been bone and organ damage, and they are then taken into the inner prison and placed in Roman stocks, with no bathroom facilities or medical aid, suffering physically with infection and longterm damage likely. Why? Because haters of the gospel lost their money!
v25 – the church at Philippi was born in the midst of joy, in spite of the circumstances. They had NO reason to be happy, but every reason to be joyful. And that’s the case for every Christian at ALL times. Our joy is rooted so deeply in our union to Christ that nothing can touch it.
3. The Conversion of a Worldly Man – v26-28
God sends an earthquake that opens all the doors, and as the jailor awakes he realizes what has happened, is about to kill himself to spare himself the humiliation of a public execution, when Paul cries out. How Paul knew? Perhaps the man was praying for mercy for his soul, and Paul heard him and realized what he was going to do.
v29-32 – he knew he needed to be saved, probably because of the hymns Paul and Silas had been singing. What we sing ought to relate gospel truth that’s based upon the scriptures; not sentimental garbage loosely connected with Christian experience. And Paul told him ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ…’ It is a faith, not just in God, but a faith with Christ and His person and work as its object. And Paul further explained the gospel to him and his household.
v33-34 – and the fruit of salvation was seen in how he treated Paul. And there you have the commencement of the church at Philippi. Amazing right? What a story!
v35-39 – the magistrates let them go, and then Paul decides to have a protest!
v40 – the church is now meeting in Lydia’s house. And they loved Paul. They had not merely heard him preach, but they had witnessed him suffer and had seen the triumph of the gospel in the midst of such a trial as he experienced here; being severely beaten and imprisoned. If he hadn’t been caught and put in prison, the jailor would never have been brought to Christ. And this is the same argument Paul uses in this book to them as they sorrow over his imprisonment. He is going to show them that his imprisonment, just as in Philippi, is furthering the gospel, and therefore they should rejoice.
As Paul writes this letter just a few years on, the church has grown and progressed. It now has elders and deacons, which is a sign of maturity. And in the future, that’s what we want to see here. Local elders and deacons, chosen from among the membership of the church. Which is why membership is so important, because without it it’s impossible to have biblically chosen leaders. Note that both are in the plural, because churches aren’t meant to have one leader. It has multiple overseers with at least one appointed to labour in the Word and doctrine (1 Tim 5:17).
Bishop = episkipos. It is the same as elder = presbuteros (1 Pet 5:1-2)
Close – How are you facing your current afflictions, beloved? Is it with joy?